Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Coast Was Clear

Crescent City, Ca
10:30 PM

You'll be relieved to know that I found commas! I can't tell you where. Let's just say I now know a guy who knows a guy. If you ever need a punctuation fix, call me and I'll set up a meet.

Today's ride started out poorly. During my morning bike inspection I found a nail in the back tire. (Only the second time in probably half a million miles of riding.) It had gone in at an angle to the tread and I was able to pull it out but I needed to make sure it was safe to ride.

MotoMarin is the new name of Marin BMW in San Rafael, just across the Golden Gate bridge. I arrived unannounced. Within five minutes they had my bike in the shop to triage the tire. The bad news was the nail had cut the cords and the tire was junk. The good news was that they had the right tire in stock. Plus, they're having a massive winter sale and I got the $220 tire for $135. Forty five minutes after I arrived I was back on the road. If you're in the Bay Area, stop and buy something from these guys. They deserve the business.

Healdsburg was my first stop, for coffee and a stroll through the Saturday Farmers' Market. Apparently, the few people in Healdsburg who aren't into Pinot Noir are into fly fishing: what few tables weren't dedicated to the former were to the latter. A local jazz band was playing, local restaurants (and there are some fabulous ones in H'burg) were selling sampler plates and a 4-week old lab pup decided to climb into my helmet when I bent down to pet him.

I wanted to spend some time on the Pacific Coast Highway (CA 1) but the tire change had cost me precious daylight so I compromised by riding up US 101, then taking CA 128 through the Alexander Valley to the coast just south of Mendocino. Highway 128 winds alongside the Navarro River through some of the most rugged and beautiful wine country in California.

It was the first twisty road time I've had with this bike and it was a treat, even though I was tip-toeing a bit with the new rear tire. (The first hundred or so miles on a new tire can be tricky until the mold release used in the tire molding process has worn off. It's slippery stuff and can cause an instant and possibly catastrophic loss of traction.) The road is a perfect mix of technically challenging curves, hills, spectacular vistas of misty vineyards with a few small towns for the requisite latte break.

Eventually, the road and the Navarro River meet the Pacific Ocean between Mendocino and Point Arenas.

There are no words to describe the Mendocino coastline. From the mouth of the Russian River north to where California 1 turns inland toward Leggett is some of the most incredible scenery anywhere. I've ridden this road many times and see it anew each ride. Like looking into the face of your child, you see it a thousand times and a thousand times it takes your breath away.

The road clings to the hillsides above the black volcanic rock outcroppings that characterize this coastline. Here, the ocean never rests, seemingly intent on accomplishing with the next wave the impossible task of destroying the rocks that have destroyed so many ships. There is always salt spray in the air, always the roar of the surf, always a salty bite to the air. And wind, always wind, so relentless that the trees above the road lean inland, their branches flags.

Today I saw this miracle at dusk, the sun filtering rose and gold through a low line of cumulus clouds on the far ocean horizon. I stopped for a few minutes to watch the sun touch the ocean as it set. I swear I heard the hiss as its heat met the cold Pacific.

About twenty miles north of Fort Bragg, CA 1 turns inland to Leggett. This twenty mile stretch of road is one of the most technically challenging rides in the northwest. Today it was tougher because of dense fog patches that obscured 15 mph hairpin turns and a road surface covered with a slippery coating of wet leaves, needles and bark torn and scattered by last night's wind storm.

And here I am now, settled in for the night in Crescent City in the Curly Redwood Lodge. This entire motel was built in 1957 from a single redwood tree! (Don't believe me? It's a seriously retro place with huge rooms, carports and is the neatest, cleanest motel I have ever stayed in. You must stay here when you're in Crescent City.

Today's ride, 400 miles: